We asked several of our INDYCAR Nation contributors to weigh in on the open GoDaddy seat at Andretti Autosport, and asked which driver they felt would be the best fit for that ride. The answers were basically unanimous, but may not be much of a surprise to fans:
The GoDaddy gang has shown a preference for its drivers having as much undeniable charisma as undeniable racing talent. This blend, combined with the website giant’s marketing wizardry, has helped rocket their previous IndyCar pilot, Danica Patrick, to superstardom, and the same could’ve easily happened to the late Dan Wheldon, even though he already had a decent following thanks to two Indy 500 wins and a humble personality that belied his flashy image.
Based on that preference, I can see GoDaddy pushing hard for Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, formerly of Newman/Haas Racing, to suit up for them and Andretti Autosport in next year’s championship. While it’s a true shame that NHR won’t be back after 29 seasons, their loss could be Hinchcliffe’s and the Series’ gain overall if he lands the most coveted open ride on the grid.
This past season, Hinchcliffe showed his skills by winning a tight Rookie of the Year battle over American J.R. Hildebrand, despite missing the opening race of the year due to sponsorship issues. His development into a regular contender in the Series would certainly accelerate with Andretti Autosport equipment and resources.
In turn, GoDaddy can capitalize on Hinchcliffe’s large social media following (insert Hinchtown.com plug here) and humorous persona out of the cockpit. This is a guy who tapes pieces of paper with the words “STOP” (left foot) and “GO” (right foot) to his driving shoes, and has posted videos of himself taking a bath in his sister’s dog washing machine and trying to buy pizza with a $1,000 pole award novelty check. Suffice to say, he’s willing to do what it takes to make his fans happy.
On-track expectations would be raised considerably if Hinchcliffe gets the nod at Andretti, but his upside is tremendous. If I was part of the GoDaddy gang, I’d give “The Mayor” some serious consideration.
Now that Josef Newgarden has signed with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, that leaves two drivers who, in my mind, best fit the GoDaddy/Andretti machine (Newgarden was the third, but he is now obviously out of the picture).
The first is Ryan Hunter-Reay. He is due to be back in 2012, so presumably some funding is already in place. This scenario would combine his sponsors with GoDaddy to place him in that seat. The extra funding is crucial because, reportedly, GoDaddy's sponsorship of the car will not be as much as had been anticipated for the late Dan Wheldon. Also, Hunter-Reay is a young, good looking driver who could easily be the face of any sponsor. And he's always a dark horse to win (so long as he doesn't have any bad luck).
The second scenario involves James Hinchcliffe. The 2011 Rookie of the Year has all the qualities GoDaddy wants in their pitchman. "Hinch" is a high-character young driver with a lot of charisma and humor (one need only visit his personal website to find a glimpse of this). He also happens to be a great talent and has "star" written all over him. However, like Hunter-Reay, extra funding needs to be in place because of GoDaddy's alleged reduced sponsorship.
Personally, I hope to see Hinchcliffe secure the Andretti/GoDaddy ride. It would keep that squad at three cars, at minimum, with "Hinch" joining Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, and keep the budding young Canadian in the series (his presence a question mark with Newman/Haas foregoing the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season). Joining Andretti Autosport would be a major boost for him, the team, and the series. Hopefully, all the pieces will come into place.
Zachary Houghton (www.indycaradvocate.com):
If you look at the available free agents right now for the IZOD IndyCar Series, there’s no shortage of talent. Oriol Seriva, Justin Wilson, Sèbastien Bourdais—all these drivers are skilled, experienced possibilities who would be a valued addition to most teams, and I firmly believe any of those racers would perform with honor in the seat that would have been Dan Wheldon’s.
However, because we’re talking about the GoDaddy seat, the expectation is that ride carries other considerations as well. The GoDaddy machine is also about exceptional promotion and charisma. Right now, no other free agent driver blends talent with potential star power like James Hinchcliffe.
Realistically, the next driver of the GoDaddy ride won’t have the celebrity status of Danica Patrick—her fame is a unique thing in racing today. However, anyone who has seen James Hinchcliffe interact with fans on the track, give a radio or TV interview, or record one of his segments as “Mayor of Hinchtown” knows that he’s something special. The fact that he looked like a steel-eyed veteran throughout the season while en route to being crowned Sunoco Rookie of the Year is just icing on the cake.
Yes, there are a number of directions Andretti Autosport and GoDaddy could decide to go with this seat, including shifting Marco Andretti or Ryan Hunter-Reay over, or recruiting one of the veterans mentioned above. However, having the genial, comedic, and yes, blazingly fast Hinch on board next year would be their best bet for the perfect blend of performance on and off the track. It’s what the fans want, and it should be what GoDaddy and Andretti Autosport want as well.